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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 Apr 2003

Vol. 172 No. 8

National Tourism Development Authority Bill 2002 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration," the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I thank the Leader for agreeing to take the Bill this morning. I am here to report on amendments made on Report Stage in the Dáil yesterday and on Committee Stage on 20 February. Contributions from all sides in both Houses showed Members' strong appreciation of the importance of tourism to the economy and a high degree of support for the Government's endeavours to put in place an appropriate institutional architecture in the years ahead.

Since the Bill was last before the House the following amendments have been made. In the Title, in page 5, line 8, after "AS", "AN tÚDARÁS NÁISIÚNTA FORBARTHA TURASÓIREACHTA OR IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE" has been inserted. In section 7, page 6, subsection (1), line 43, after "as", "an tÚdarás Náisiúnta Forbartha Turasóireachta or in the English language" has also been inserted. In section 7 the Irish language title of the authority, An tÚdarás Náisiúnta Forbartha Turasóireachta, was inserted. This amendment also affected the title of the Bill, which was also amended.

In section 8, page 8, line 14, "or" was deleted and in page 8, line 23, "project." was deleted and the following substituted: "project, or (d) provide training to persons in connection with the tourism industry in the State.” In section 8 two amendments were made relating to the authority's direct involvement in the provision of training. There was some concern on the part of CERT staff that the current text of the Bill, while it allowed the authority to encourage, promote and support training, might not allow it to provide training directly. In order to remove any doubt and allay staff anxieties I decided to make the text more explicit and make it quite clear that the authority could provide training.

In section 8, page 8, line 31, after "Government", "(including policies of the Government relating to the Irish language and culture)" was inserted. An amendment was also made to section 8 to make sure the authority had regard to the policies of the Government regarding the Irish language and culture. During the debates on the Bill I was struck by the number of speakers who referred to the need to develop, in a sensitive way, the tourism potential of our language and associated culture. This amendment will send a useful signal in this regard.

In section 14, page 12, between lines 32 and 33, the following subsection was inserted: "(8) The Minister shall, in so far as is practicable, endeavour to ensure that among the members of the Authority there is an equitable balance between men and women". Section 14 has been amended to address the issue of male-female representation on the authority. Senator Quinn tabled an amendment along these lines and though I did not accept it at the time, I said I would think about it. This amendment is substantially the same as the Senator's. It is important to recognise there is no existing statutory provision around the gender issue in so far as the main tourism development agencies are concerned. This amendment addresses the issue in legislation for the very first time. If I exclude the chairpersons, there are 25 ordinary members on the combined boards of Bord Fáilte and CERT and ten are women. In other words, 40% of the ordinary members of the combined boards are women.

In section 28, page 18, between lines 20 and 21, the following subsection was inserted: "(3) As soon as may be after copies of a report to which subsection (1) applies are laid before each House of the Oireachtas the Authority shall cause the report to be published through the medium commonly referred to as the internet”. Section 28 has been amended to provide for the publication of the authority's annual report. Senator Quinn tabled an amendment providing for its electronic publishing. I stated I would take this matter up in the Dáil and the amendment of section 28 provides accordingly.

There are several other minor amendments of a purely grammatical nature which have no impact on policy. I thank the House for the constructive and thoughtful way in which it has dealt with the Bill by facilitating its relatively rapid passage.

These are challenging times for tourism. It is extremely important from the industry perspective to have the authority up and running as soon as possible. Once the Bill has been passed in this House and signed by the President, it is my intention to set an establishment date for the last week in April and beginning of May. The establishment of the new authority will mean the passing of two old organisations which have made an enormous contribution to tourism. CERT has done much to help upskill those working in the industry and worked ceaselessly to raise its standards. For consumers and the industry alike, Bord Fáilte is synonymous with tourism. From humble beginnings it has worked around the world to grow the industry and helped it reach a standard of development and success which is the envy of many countries. I take this opportunity to express the warm appreciation of the Government and, I am sure, the House for the great commitment, creativity and diligence of the staff and directors of both organisations throughout their history.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus na leasuithe. Tá gá fá leith dóibh go léir. All the amendments are perfectly sensible. I welcome, in particular, the requirement on the new National Tourism Development Authority to have regard to public policy on the Irish language. I have noticed a disturbing trend regarding an increasing number of tourism information signs, as opposed to local authority signs, in the Gaeltacht I know best, which is in the Minister's constituency. While I accept these signs are bilingual, one would at least expect Irish to be the prominent language and English the subordinate one, the reverse of the pattern in the rest of the country. It would have been useful for those involved in tourism development to recognise the language in this manner and in doing so give hints to tourists travelling west of Dingle or Spiddal that they are moving into regions where things are different. The Minister knows better than I how different things are west of Dingle. I suggest that public policy on this issue, which is unanimously supported, should be implemented.

I am sure if Senator Quinn had realised one of his amendments was to be dealt with, he would have stayed to hear the Minister's words of praise. I will convey them to him.

Having spent countless hours in the House arguing about how the Internet could be defined in copyright law several years ago, I am intrigued by the last amendment. The parliamentary counsel has now produced a perfectly sensible description of it as the medium commonly referred to as the Internet. We asked for such a description during long and tedious hours of debate on the Copyright and Related Rights Act about four years ago. This shows that the parliamentary counsel can produce sensible definitions when he or she finally gets around to recognising the existence of something. This definition will evolve as the Internet evolves, whereas in the past, the term "Internet" was used in legislation without a definition being provided, meaning it could mean what one wanted.

I wish the Minister well and welcome the amendments. Without wishing to stray from their substance, we have to realise that tourism is not compulsory. People do not have to visit this country, they must want to do so. We have to make it an attractive place to visit. Obviously, this includes price but courtesy is also important. The most common complaint I have heard from tourists regarding their experience here in recent years is that the traditional céad míle fáilte is not as warm as it used to be. We need to address this issue as much as price competition. Tourists would probably not mind paying above the odds if we showed the same welcome we did in the past. However, they will take great exception if they have to pay high prices and put up with poor quality service.

I welcome the amendments and compliment the Minister. As always, he has been open to constructive ideas and suggestions on proposed amendments. The amendments made by the Dáil are proof of the Minister's determination to ensure this important legislation will launch the National Tourism Development Authority and place it on a sound footing. Given current circumstances, it is important the authority will be up and running soon. Tourism is in a difficult position and I have no doubt the authority will assist it. I wish the Minister and the Bill well.

I welcome the Minister, who comes from one of our tourism honey pots, and the amendments. Tourism is an important national industry. It has been particularly successful in terms of job creation in the past decade or thereabouts and it is important this success is maintained.

I ask the Minister to consider the vital task of realigning the regional tourism boards. We, in the midlands region, feel neglected. Despite forming part of the midlands east area, we have a different product to offer, which includes the River Shannon, lakes and rivers.

We also have Goldsmith.

Yes, and we have other literary figures such as Maria Edgeworth. The boundaries of the tourism authorities should be redrawn and a midlands region tourism authority created. We have a different product from County Wicklow and the east coast. As far as funding in the Midlands East Regional Tourism Authority is concerned, the midlands always appears to be on the hind tit. I ask the Minister to allay our genuine concerns and address this issue as soon as possible.

The River Shannon crosses two provinces and is one of the greatest assets of the midlands region. While it has been slowly developed, it has major potential to attract European visitors. Our lakes and rivers should also be promoted to attract anglers.

I will be brief as Senator Kieran Phelan is our spokesperson on tourism. I commend the Bill and the work of the Minister. I am glad the fine work of CERT and its staff has been formally recognised. All tourists, both domestic and foreign, want good value, which has been lacking heretofore due to complacency among providers of tourism services faced with a steady increase in the number of tourists in recent years. This will result in a recession unless they are assured of value.

There are major opportunities for Ireland in this respect. We offer excellent food and wine, are good company and the country has many lovely areas. Tourists need to be assured of decent food and accommodation at reasonable prices. They do not come here for our beaches, although such tourists would provide an added bonus. In general, they come here for what could be described as our céad míle fáilte, which, as Senator Ryan noted, has unfortunately diminished recently. Tourists are now seeking value for money.

With the Minister at the helm, a native, as Senator Bannon said, of one of the most beautiful, scenic spots in the country, which also offers great value, I have no doubt the tourism industry will succeed. However, it will require hard graft this year.

I thank Senators for their comments and wish the legislation well.

Question put and agreed to.
Question, "That the Bill do now pass," put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 11.30 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.